Capital Region

Capital Region drivers line up for Uber and Lyft

Service expected to begin by end of the month
Kevin Dowd of Troy talks with Aaron Felton of Uber as he signs up to drive for the company.
Kevin Dowd of Troy talks with Aaron Felton of Uber as he signs up to drive for the company.

Prospective drivers and their would-be employers are gearing up for ride-sharing in upstate New York, where it is expected to start happening June 29.

Two of the biggest ride-sharing networks, Uber and Lyft, expect to be up and running on day 1, and many businesses are just as eager to see them start rolling in upstate. The area of New York outside of New York City was one of the few parts of the country where ride-sharing has not allowed, and there was a hard-fought campaign by the restaurant, entertainment and hospitality industries to change that.

“Most of the country and world has ridesharing,” said Mark Eagan, CEO of the Capital Region Chamber. “It’s sort of a convenience that people expect today, to use technology to connect rides.”

The potential of on-demand rides from an army of drivers in private vehicles summoned and paid through smartphones is particularly appealing to restaurants, taverns and hotels, he said, and retailers in general, to a lesser extent.

It also has a lot of allure to college students who lack cars and the elderly who can no longer drive, Eagan said.

The practice has been legal for years in New York City. The competitors there to Uber and Lyft, such as Gett, Juno and Via, indicate no intention of rolling out upstate at this point.

Adrian Durbin, director of communications at Lyft, said his company will announce as soon as next week which upstate markets it will serve first. All the major metropolitan areas will be included in the rollout, he said.

“We have been actively recruiting drivers across the state,” he said. “We are getting the word out to potential passengers,encouraging them to download the app.”

This way, Durbin said, Lyft can see where the greatest demand is likely to be and concentrate its driver recruitment efforts in those places.

He wouldn’t say exactly how many drivers are signed up already in the Capital Region, only that they number in the hundreds.

“We are geared up to have adequate supply on the very first day,” he said.

When the first day will be is slightly up in the air. Originally, it was to be 90 days after the April 10 approval of the 2017-2018 state budget, which also contained legislation authorizing ride-sharing. But the Assembly and Senate last month approved legislation moving the start date forward to June 29, so as to have ride-sharing in place for the Fourth of July holiday. The office of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a proponent of ride-sharing, has said he will sign that measure.

“We expect the governor to sign it, which would be great,” said Alix Anfang, an Uber spokeswoman.

She said the company is busy getting ready for the rollout.

“We hope to be everywhere as soon as possible and we’re working toward that,” Anfang said. 

“We are definitely reaching out to potential drivers,” she added. “We’ve seen a lot of interest from people in the Capital Region.”

Uber held one of its weekly informational and signup sessions for prospective drivers Friday at the Courtyard by Marriott in Clifton Park.

A diverse group of more than a dozen people listened to an Uber employee’s presentation on what the company is and how it works, with broad and specific guidelines on how drivers do their jobs. (Drivers may refuse service to an dangerous-looking passenger, for example, but may not refuse to transport a passenger with a service animal.)

Some in the audience asked questions. A pair walked out after the Uber rep finished her presentation. But most waited patiently to sign up, and more walked in through the day.

Among them was Elvis Verdzeba, a Cameroonian immigrant who now works as a certified nursing assistant and will keep his current job at least in the short term, even if Uber takes him on.

“If I work with it for a month, I will see whether I like it,” he said in French-inflected English.

Ultimately, he’d like less stress than his current job provides. And more money, because he’s supporting relatives back home in west Africa.

“It’s just a huge family,” Verdzeba said.

Scott Veronese of Watervliet also intends to keep his current job, in a Wal-Mart produce department.

“I work 40 hours a week there,” he said. 

He likes Uber because of the flexible hours it will offer as he drives people around in his 2017 Cruze. He also likes the potential high end of the earnings scale, which can vary greatly by geography and circumstance.

“If that works out I might do this full-time,” he said. “I think it’s going to be awesome.”

The idea of trading a steady day job for the unknowns of ride-sharing is sufficiently daunting that some people don’t want it to be known they are contemplating the move. Particularly not by their current employer.

A few people at Friday’s Uber signup session walked out when a Gazette photographer walked in. 

A 40-something man declined to even speak to a Gazette writer.

“No, I’m not good to talk to you!” he laughed.

One prospective driver who has wrestled with his options is Derick Noetzel of Albany, a recent College of Saint Rose graduate who works in video production for a Schenectady firm. He’s decided to make the move, if Uber will have him. (He’s not sure if Uber will, because his car — a 2006 Scion — is nearly half as old as he is, and has 160,000 miles on it.)

On the one hand, he’s happy at his full-time job.

“I do love it, I’ve learned everything i know about video there,” he said.

On the other hand, the flexible schedule he would get with Uber is very appealing.

“I’m starting to get a lot of my own projects,” Noetzel explained. “I thought if I got some of that workload off me, I could do better on my own.”

He said he travels frequently for his job, often utilizing taxis or Uber, and has never had a bad experience with Uber.

Even as it recruits drivers, Uber is developing self-driving cars, which might limit its need for drivers. Noetzel is OK with that.

“The self-driving car aspect, if it’s safe and it works, I will subscribe to it as soon as I can,” he said.

It will free people’s time up to do things other than stare at the road, he said, and help advance ride-sharing so that fewer cars are on the road, with less environmental impact.

Four weeks from launch, the state Department of Motor Vehicles still has not issued regulations for ride-sharing in upstate New York. It also did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

But state legislators representing the Capital Region say they expect the rules will be done and ride-sharing begun on time.

Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, was a strong proponent of legalizing ride-sharing upstate and has seen no hiccups in its implementation.

“I think the process is rolling along. ​All the pieces are there to make this happen​,” he said. “Generally in the community, everyone is very excited.”

Assemblyman Phil Steck, D-Colonie, said June 29 still looks like a realistic target.

“Everyone has agreed on the substance on how this type of service is going to take effect in upstate New York,” he said. “I have heard nothing about anyone trying to delay this.”

Sen. Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville, said delays are always possible in a state bureaucracy, but there is no effort to create a delay. “I think we’ll be in place before the Fourth of July, and that will be great.” 

He suggested that those who want to drink to celebrate the nation’s birthday give the newly available ride-sharing apps a test, rather than get behind the wheel themselves.

“Do the right thing and we’ll save some lives,” he said.

Durbin, the Lyft spokesman, said the state leadership is supportive of ride-sharing, so the rules will likely be workable and timely. Lyft operates in most states (it’s also rolling out in Alaska this year and debuted Wednesday in Houston, Texas) so the company is accustomed to dealing with multiple regulatory agencies, each a bit different in their requirements.

“I don’t anticipate any hiccups,” he said.

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